Dean Byrne was turning around to pull two children out of a treacherous lake when he saw their mother staring at him from under the water.
“When I pulled her out I found that another child was hanging onto her garment. I can only assume that the woman went into the water before anybody noticed,” said Dean.
The incident happened at Killykeen Forest Park, Co Cavan, last July. Today Dean will receive an Irish Water Safety bravery award in Dublin Castle.
Dean, originally from Balbriggan, Co Dublin, but now living in Virginia, Co Cavan, was at the picturesque forest park straddling Lough Oughter with his wife Monica and their two youngest children.
The couple was alerted to two children who were in trouble in the water. Monica ran to the water’s edge, but stopped as she could not swim.
“I would class myself as a very good swimmer,” said Dean. “There were other people at the water’s edge, but no one could swim.
“I went in after the two kids, but I did not know the woman was there. I grabbed the kids very quickly, and when I turned, I could see her under the water. I did not know that the child was there either until pulled the woman out.”
Dean cut the soles of his feet badly getting out of the lake and had to get stitches for a severe gash on the back of his toe.
“The lake is very strange. Once I got to shin deep, the floor just went from under me. I didn’t touch the bottom of that lake once during the couple of minutes I was in the water.”
Holding the mother in his right hand and taking the two other young children in his left, Dean pulled the young family back to shore.
“I tore my feet getting out,” he said. “As I was pulling the children and the woman and the edge, I had to find somewhere to put my feet and give myself an extra push.”
The father of the family Dean saved at Killykeen had just gone back to his car to pick up some picnic items when his partner and children got into difficulty.
Dean, a father of four, said he never expected to get a bravery award. He was just happy that no one died in the water.
He will be among 30 rescuers who will be presented with a bravery award today for saving a total of 30 people from drowning.
Irish Water Safety chief executive John Leech said 122 people drowned last year, compared to 121 in 2015.
“So far this year, 61 people have drowned, 22 less than last year,” said Mr Leech.
“This year has been a better one regarding lives lost, and it could arguably be the best on record. But there are just over four weeks to go until the end of the year, and many lives could be lost in just one drowning tragedy.”
Michael Ring, the minister for rural and community development, who will present the award, said the work of the Irish Water Safety’s volunteers in teaching and assessing lifeguards was invaluable.
Last summer, lifeguards rescued 302 people from drowning nationwide this summer, administered first aid on 3,777 occasions, and reunited 298 lost children found wandering unsupervised near water.
Brave efforts to save lives
Quick-thinking siblings Bernard and Róisín Cahill from Clarecastle, Co Clare, saved a swimmer from the sea near Spanish Point.
They were driving home last June when they spotted two people swimming towards what they knew was a dangerous rip current.
The off-duty lifeguards used a borrowed kayak to rescue a struggling swimmer and helped another to swim to safety.
Kilkenny native Eoin Bolger, meanwhile, rescued a man from the River Barrow in Graiguenamanagh after the car he was driving became submerged in November 2016.
Upon reaching the car, which was drifting downstream in the fast-flowing water , he grabbed the driver by the hand, pressed his feet on the door, and pulled him through a window before the vehicle sank.
Elsewhere, a family trip to feed the ducks in Carlow almost ended in tragedy for toddler Max Hutchinson, who fell through railings and into the water in January.
However, his uncle, Michael Lyons, who had joined the family outing, heard the splash as Max, 18 months. fell in.
Michael dived into the water just as the current was taking Max away, grabbing him by the jacket, and keeping them both afloat until his grandfather, also called Michael Lyons, pulled the young boy to safety.
Brothers Seán and David Slattery were having lunch near the Quays in Youghal, Co Cork, in June when they were alerted that a teenager was in danger of drowning.
The recent retirees from the Youghal lifeboat service entered the water and found the boy lying motionless on the seabed.
After taking him out of the water, they resuscitated him, and emergency services took the boy to the hospital where he made a full recovery.
Garda Michelle Power was driving by the River Suir in Waterford in July when she noticed a man in difficulty in the water. She left her car, ran to the quayside, and used a ring buoy to bring the man to safety.
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